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Western alumni fights cancer with passion

It is so easy to overlook things in everyday life and be thankful for what we have and our good health, but when tragedy strikes us we suddenly remember just how important they really are.

Missouri Western State University alumni, Elizabeth Woolery, was diagnosed with melanoma in March of 2010, but instead of worrying so much about herself, she is reaching out to the community to warn others about what caused her cancer.

Always a smile on Woolery's face

Woolery started tanning at an early age when she was dealing with eczema and tanning was recommended for treating dry skin. She spent a lot of time outside with her family in the natural sunlight and worked as a lifeguard spending many days lying out by the pool, but used tanning beds on occasion and continued doing so throughout her life.

Woolery had a mole on her hip and realized it had started looking swollen and red, but attributed it to rubbing on her pants and didn’t think much of it. She let it go for a while until a friend suggested she should get it checked out. After getting a second opinion, Woolery was diagnosed with melanoma and is in stage three.

Western nursing student, Stevie Smith, said any stage of cancer is serious and can easily spread through the body.

Since being diagnosed, Woolery has kept her spirits high and made it a mission to inform others about the dangers of tanning beds. She has spoken to the Community Health Nursing Class and is working closely with the Student Nursing Association to form awareness projects. Other upcoming plans for Woolery are to speak at Savannah High School. She is currently seeking to speak at other schools and events.

Woolery would like to see more warnings at tanning salons to let people know there are real dangers involved and is not satisfied at all with the current warnings posted in the salons.

“They need to put the word out there that tanning has a direct correlation to skin cancer. The only thing advertising I ever see is the fact that you can get vitamin D from tanning,” Woolery said.

Many people have the misconception that this is not going to happen to them or that it only happens to older people, but according to the American Cancer Society, Melanoma is the number one cancer killer of women between 25-30 years old. The ACS also said that melanoma is the most common form of skin cancer.

Not only has the cancer affected Woolery, but her family as well. Woolery has had to go through many surgeries and her parents are there for her to help support her in every way. Woolery said her father is a huge emotional support.

“It doesn’t have to be anything I say to give her positive reinforcement, just a loving hand to encourage her to stay strong, Terry Woolery said.

Staying strong is exactly what Woolery is doing. She talks in good spirit and is serious about educating the public on the dangers of tanning, and especially tanning beds.

Reasons why people should be concerned come straight from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDCP said that melanoma is associated with the highest case-fatality rate of all skin cancers.

For cancer information, answers and support, call your American Cancer Society 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at 1-800-227-2345.

Woolery is a Registered Nurse and graduated from Western in the spring of 2007.

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